Friday, 8 July 2011

Processes, sequencers and passive voice

A teaching idea for describing everyday objects and work processes

  • First developed as part of an eight week business English session for an engineering company. 
  • Sessions ran for 135 mins. 
  • The 10 group members came from the company’s laboratory department and the documentation team.
  • Intermediate - upper intermediate
Group dynamic
  • Nice chatty group, typically willing to contribute.
Other info
  • Mid-term review had featured a request for sessions to refresh verb tenses. 
  • Processes, sequencers and passive voice seemed clearly relevant to the group. 
  • Sessions came at the end of a working day - lighthearted interludes useful. 
The session was split into two main sections: everyday objects and work processes:
  • Warmer
  • Everyday objects: Set up descriptions, deal with words and phrases, introduce sequencers.
  • Work processes:
    • Handout for sequencers
    • Handout for form & use of passive voice
    • Handout for check task.
    • (The group had been requested to come prepared with an actual object or process in mind. Only one did. The session probably worked just as well, if not better. Bear in mind though that processes were a key part of this groups’ working day.)

    • Share jokes. In English or otherwise.
    • Make a list of 5 things you use each day.
    • Describe characteristics - visual/tactile/aural/smell/taste/ (refresher of previously covered material)
    • Talk about the processes involved with the object - Start with why use it / what you do / how you do it. Aim for four or five steps.
    • Describe how you use object
      • partner interrupts with a ‘How do you …?’ whenever they spot an opportunity for missing detail to be filled in
    • Put up good usage from descriptions 
      • esp. sequencers
      • handout sequencers list
      • deal with queries
    • Everyday description is written down using sequencers.
      • Perhaps with space between sentences for later conversion to passives.

    • Get responses to ‘Why did the chicken cross the road’
    • Briefly share work processes
    • Elicit one simple process, but include a mix of simple and more complex tense constructions. 
      • Have enough sentences to allow for form analysis and some guided check material.
    • Question: 
      • Difference between ‘Why did the chicken cross the road’ and ‘Why was the road crossed by the chicken’.
    • Question: 
      • In a process description, which is more important, the person doing the action, or the things being affected or used ?
    • Shift to passive. Do the sentences with simpler verb forms first: 
      • Active - identify doer, thing being done to. 
      • Then elicit passive version, putting thing being done to first (or after sequencing phrase). 
      • Work through enough, then use remaining sentences as open group check task.
    • Do handout check tasks
    • Write up own work processes using opening sentence, sequencers and passive.

    • I like the way that inevitably people describe everyday use of objects in first person. It led my group to using the first person in the work process context, allowing for a clear shift to passive voice.
    • Not every sentence needs passive even in a process description, some are better as active construction, e.g. if a particular person or role in the office has to perform a given action. So, go back over if there’s time, to review selection process between active and passive.
    • This is too much for one session. We never got round to writing the individual work processes, but they very much had a grasp of it. Probably do the everyday object one session, and the work process the next.
    • Be careful when searching for passive material on the web. As part of a process description, and in our context here, the passive voice plays a valuable role in effective communication. However, if the online material was produced as support to an academic course, there might well be a focus as to why people should avoid using the passive voice.
    • I’d rejig the check task I found a little.
    • I’d add in a couple of sequencers that came up during the session to the resource I used.

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